Sunday, September 11, 2011

Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31

With about 30 seconds remaining in last night's game and Notre Dame up 31-28, I said to my fellow watchers, "I predicted Notre Dame would win by a score of 31-27.  I don't want  that to be the score, but that was my pick."

I'm glad I was wrong.

That was one of the most exciting games I've seen as a Michigan fan.  It reminded me of the 2004 "Henne to Edwards Game", a victory over MSU in which quarterback Chad Henne chucked the ball up repeatedly to wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who decided to just flat-out win the game for his team.  With Michigan down 17-7 at halftime, I thought to myself, "Well, hopefully Brady Hoke returns to the ways of Lloyd Carr and they become a 'second half team.'"  Uh . . . yep.  The Wolverines scored 28 points in the fourth quarter, including 14 in the final 1:12 to steal a victory from the Irish.


Denard Robinson sucks is awesome.  I have to admit there was a time that I thought this was going to be Robinson's worst game as a starter.  Early on he was just plain inaccurate.  Then he became inaccurate and  made poor decisions.  Then he made poor decisions . . . accurately.  Robinson finished the game 11-for-24 for 338 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.  He also carried the ball 16 times for 108 yards and 1 touchdown.  His total of 446 yards and 5 touchdowns was excellent, but how he got there was strange.  Through three quarters of football, he was 4-for-14 passing (if that accuracy rate sounds familiarly horrible, that's because it's the same as Michigan's kickers circa 2010) for 136 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions.  In the fourth stanza, Robinson went 8-for-11 for 217 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception, plus a recovered Stephen Hopkins fumble that he turned into a touchdown.

Notre Dame is awesome sucks.  I do think Notre Dame is an improved team this season, but they have nothing to show for it.  They won their final four games in 2010 and had two opportunities for victories to open 2011, but they blew both chances.  They remind me of Michigan from the past couple years - able to move the ball, but turnover prone; the Irish have 9 turnovers in two games.  Quarterback Tommy Rees looked excellent at times, but he also threw an ill advised pick to cornerback J.T. Floyd, failed to see Jordan Kovacs dropping back for another interception, and let the ball slip from his hand in the red zone late in the game, a fumble that defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen recovered.  Overall, Rees was 27-for-39 for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Receiver Michael Floyd caught 13 of those passes for 159 yards, but failed to turn any of those receptions into scores.

Thank goodness for Junior Hemingway.  There were lots of "heroes" in the game - Robinson, Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree, Jordan Kovacs, Matt Wile, etc.  But none were more important than Hemingway, whose amazing body control saved Robinson's ass time after time.  Robinson completed only 46% of his passes on the day, but two of his eleven completions were amazing catches by Hemingway for big plays.  His first of the day was a 43-yard TD reception on which he leapt high in the air, came down with the ball, and blasted his way through a Notre Dame defensive back to just barely reach the pylon.  His second was on a horrible decision to throw the ball into double coverage, when he stopped and jumped high in the air once again.  His third was on a crossing route when he kept running despite presumably seeing Robinson in the grasp of a defender; Robinson made his best throw of the night, which Hemingway caught and turned into a 77-yard gain before being tackled inside the 10-yard line.  He ended the night with 3 receptions, 165 yards, and 1 touchdown.  Nobody else on Michigan's team can do what Hemingway does.

The offense is still explosive.  I hate hate hate it when people like Mark May question Al Borges' ability to use Denard Robinson effectively.  Michigan's offense is just fine when Robinson makes accurate throws.  When Robinson is inaccurate, the offense suffers.  But insert any quarterback's name in that previous sentence and the comment holds true.  Robinson made a few bad decisions in the first half (throwing an ill advised screen pass to Vincent Smith that was picked, throwing into double coverage, tossing jump balls to the 5'8" Jeremy Gallon, etc.), but there were wide open receivers that Robinson repeatedly missed.  He doesn't throw an accurate deep ball, and that was apparent last year under "genius" Rich Rodriguez, too.  Robinson got a lot of yardage from bubble screens and short throws last year, but with teams stacking the line of scrimmage and daring Michigan to "pass to win," those hitches and bubble screens just aren't going to be there.  The bubble screen worked well for Notre Dame because Michigan was backed off in fear of Michael Floyd.

What happened to Michigan's defensive line?  I knew Notre Dame's offensive line would be pretty solid, but so far the defensive linemen have produced very little through two games.  They had 8 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 fumble recoveries in last night's contest, but both fumble recoveries were more a function of being lucky than good.  Starters Craig Roh and Will Heininger didn't register on the stat sheet, and the only production from the backups came from 3 tackles by Jibreel Black and a fumble recovery by William Campbell.  Meanwhile, the team didn't register a single sack despite 39 pass attempts, and running back Cierre Wood gashed the Wolverines for 134 yards and 5.4 yards a pop.  The linebackers and defensive backs have been outplaying the defensive line in Michigan's two games.

Pass protection good, run blocking bad.  Except for a Dan Fox blitz that resulted in a quick sack, the offensive line protected Robinson very well.  He did scramble around at times, but usually that was after hanging around in the pocket for a while and not getting rid of the ball.  On the other hand, Michigan's running backs got zero blocking whatsoever.  They combined for 8 carries, 13 yards, and 1 fumble.  Yikes.  Fitzgerald Toussaint apparently suffered an injury and couldn't play, and despite having -3 yards, Michael Shaw looked the best of the bunch after he was walled off by defenders and still had the speed to get to the outside.  Hopkins is simply too slow to be a feature back, and he fumbled on the goal line.  Luckily, Robinson was there to pick up the ball and score.  Michigan could also use a new short yardage play, aside from the dive out of a single back formation.

Wanted: A Healthy Troy Woolfolk.  With Eastern Michigan on the horizon, Woolfolk might get a week to rest up a bit.  That would be excellent news for a defensive backfield that lacks size and/or coverage ability.  J.T. Floyd and Courtney Avery were both overmatched by Michael Floyd, which is understandable since they're both smaller and perhaps slower.  I thought Avery had a decent day despite being flagged on a questionable pass interference call, but J.T. Floyd was picked on all night.  He had a couple nice plays, but he's just not starter quality.  Woolfolk played sporadically in spite of an ankle injury - which he noticeably aggravated a couple times - and a hand injury that forced him to wear a cast.

Wow.  I wish I could have been there.  If I lived in Michigan, there's no doubt I would have shelled out the money to attend.  That was the best Michigan crowd I think I've seen, and at 114,804, it was the largest in football history, too.  I thought ESPN did an excellent job of encapsulating the enormity of the crowd and the game.  Those in attendance will probably remember that game forever.

Go Blue!


  1. One of the most fun games I have ever watched. Wish I could have been there with the crowd until, . . . exactly what time did they leave?

  2. Magnus, do you think they'll put in Countess against Eastern?

  3. I know I was not the only fan experiencing traumatic flashbacks during the first quarter when ND marched effortlessly down the field for two easy touchdowns. After those two drives, I removed myself from the general viewing area to watch the remainder of the game in solitude because everything from the past three years told me that the game was setting up to be another program embarrassing loss.

    But it wasn't--for us, at least. What a fantastic night for the players, coaches, alums, fans and the Michigan "brand."

    It's great to be a Michigan Wolverine.

  4. I still don't think Borges uses Denard well. I think the I-formation sets are the best example. Without a good RB, we take away the threat of Denard running and turn him into a play-action passer. Bootlegs seem meh to me.

    I think this view will be borne out in Brian's UFR.

  5. Not Magnus, but... With Woolfolk having multible injury problems, I think the coaches need to play Countess next week. This assumes that he is next on the depth chart. UM will not survive a three-CB rotation this year. Any guys who have a good shot at starting next year need to play this year. And I assume that with the hype Countess is getting and the lack of talent at CB, he will be a primary candidate.

  6. "Michigan's offense is just fine when Robinson makes accurate throws. When Robinson is inaccurate, the offense suffers. But insert any quarterback's name in that previous sentence and the comment holds true." But isn't that the problem? Denard probably isn't going to be as accurate as any other quarterback you could insert in there. There's a reason, after all, that only Rich Rodriguez wanted him as a QB.

    I don't think he will be as inaccurate as he has been for the entire season, but he's still not going to be a proficient west coast offense QB. Al Borges needs to adjust to Denard's skills, and after this game, Mark May's sentiment is completely reasonable (note, that's the first and only time I will ever say that).

  7. Agree with the other commenters: I don't agree that Borges is using Robinson well (in the first half especially). The only crisp pass that looked like on honest-to-goodness play (i.e., not a play of great athleticism by either Denard and/or his WR or a play of just good luck) was the out route to Grady in the fourth qtr. Denard was in the shotgun, Grady ran an out and Denard zipped it in there, on time, for 20+ yards.

    The screen pass that was intercepted was a play that just wasn't going to work - it would have required a Rodgers/Bress like touch to throw a ball in a perfect parabola 10 yards in btw the OL and the defenders, and Denard doesn't nearly have that. Heck, even the screen pass Smith scored on was a play where Smith beat 3 defenders essentially on his own.

    An amazing game with tons of excitement, but man, it reminded me of Madden EA Sports football game,

  8. @ Rob Pollard 10:49 a.m.

    What about the corner route to Roundtree? What about the deep crossing pattern to Hemingway? Etc. There were opportunities for Denard to hit passes, guys that were wide open...and he just didn't. That's on Denard, not on Borges.

    The point of a screen pass is to get your athletes in open spaces. That's what the screen pass to Smith did. Yes, he did have to beat three defenders...which is why you have scatbacks like him on your roster. I hope you're not complaining about that screen pass, which was executed well and worked perfectly. If that doesn't make you happy, then I'm not sure anything will.

  9. @ Anonymous 10:43 a.m.

    I heard the crowd didn't even begin to leave until 20 minutes after the game ended.

  10. @ David 12:32 p.m.

    I think either or both of Countess and Gregg Brown will play on Saturday against EMU. They need to play a fourth corner at some point.

  11. @ David 5:54 p.m.

    Denard obviously runs the ball well out of the shotgun, but we need some I-formation plays to set up the rest of the offense. This is a necessary evil. People got mad at Rodriguez for not using more I-formation because dangit, that's what Michigan ran before...and now people are getting mad at Borges for not using more spread because dangit, that's what Michigan ran before.

    Coaches should and do run what they know. Borges/Hoke are more familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of pro sets. Expecting them to run pure spread is just as silly as expecting Rodriguez to run I-formation.

  12. @ Anonymous 10:13 a.m.

    But the issue is that Denard is an inaccurate thrower, whether he's throwing long or short. He threw bubble screens last season that his slot receivers had to dive to catch. Whether he runs the West Coast offense, a five-wide system, a zone read-heavy system, etc., he's going to be inaccurate. That's just something Michigan fans (and coaches) have to live with.

  13. Regarding the deep cross to Hemingway, if I recall that was a bit behind him. I may be 100% wrong on this, but when I watched the replay, it looked like Denard was expecting Hemingway to stop a bit short (as there was a bigger space to throw to there) and Hemingway kept going.

    I don't recall the Roundtree play, but I'm guessing you're right. I don't mean to say Borges' offense NEVER puts Denard in a reasonable place to succeed: I'm just saying he should do so more often.

    Lastly, on the screen pass, I was pointing out that unlike some screen passes where it's so well-blocked the RB doesn't have to make two people miss behind/at the line of scrimmage, this was not as good (though it's great it worked in the end). That's it.

    I'm fine with certain "jump ball" plays (e.g., the first Denard to Hemingway) as it really can work in a) one-on-one situations, b) it makes sense to throw it a bit behind the defender who's had to run 20+ yards up the field and c) with great leapers/adjustment makers like Hemingway. I'm not thrilled with jump balls into double-coverage (Hemingway's third catch) to Gallon (who's what, 5' 6"?), etc. I'm thrilled with the overall result - a win - but I'm hoping for our next game against a decent opponent, we'll have plays that don't rely on the fates quite so much.

  14. I agree with Rob. A large amount of the offense's struggles on Saturday can be laid on Borges. He is not utilizing Denard's skills effectively. Denard is never going to be a great pocket passer. He's effective because he forces offenses to deal with the threat of the run on every play.

    The new offense just doesn't seem to fit together right. That's on the OC. I agree that asking a coach to run a system he has no experience with is difficult so this doesn't mean Borges is a bad coach, but saying Borges' changes to the offense had nothing to do with the night's struggles is ridiculous. Face it. Sometimes, even Mark May is right.

  15. I've been to A LOT of Michigan games over the past 12 years, including '04 MSU, '05 PSU, and '00 Washington. This topped them all. THAT was the Michigan crowd that I've always wanted.

  16. @ Joe 11:57 p.m.

    Borges used all kinds of rollouts on Saturday - that's using Denard's feet effectively. The bottom line is that Denard was inaccurate. That's not Borges's fault. That's Denard's fault. I know the inclination is to think that our superstar player is faultless, but he deserves the majority of the blame for missing WIDE OPEN receivers. Whether Al Borges, Mike Martz, or Tom Osborne is calling the plays, inaccurate passes are inaccurate.

  17. The fact that Borges used a lot of rollouts on Saturday does not prove he was using Denard effectively. Not even close. That's a huge logical jump. I'm not saying Denard shares no blame here. He was downright bad at times, but I think it's ridiculous to absolve the coaching staff of 3 quarters of offensive struggles during a scheme change.

  18. @ Joe 2:42 a.m.

    I think it's ridiculous to blame a "scheme change" for Denard Robinson's inability to hit wide open receivers.

    So I guess we're at an impasse.

  19. No doubt that was the greatest atmosphere at Michigan Stadium that I've ever experienced.

    You're right on Junior Hemingway and his body control - I've been trying to figure out if there's been any luck to Hemingway's handful of jumpballs starting with last years catch at the end of the Indiana game, but it's not luck. He's got the size and the natural ability to position his body perfectly.

    Bottom line, Denard needs to be more accurate throughout the course of the game.

    I have no problem with the play calls that Borges is throwing out there.

  20. Denard Robinson has always had trouble throwing certain kinds of passes. Now, the offense contains a lot more of those kinds of passes and a lot less of what he does well. Then, add the increased difficulty of having him operate from under center, something he clearly isn't comfortable with if you compare our YPA under center to that in the shotgun. If my inclination is not to blame Denard, I think your inclination is to never blame this coaching staff. Don't get me wrong. I like the new staff as well. If Rodriguez had stayed, I think we would have lost that game. But we would have lost it 56-49 or something. This offense is not as explosive as it was last year, which is troubling considering everyone is back. I'm hoping that improves before week 7.

  21. @ Joe 5:53 p.m.

    Are you certain that the offense contains less of those "certain kinds of passes"? Or is he just choosing to throw deep passes rather than the short ones? And if he's good at throwing short passes (which I'm assuming you're referring to), then why were the play action pass to Dileo and the pop pass to Koger so inaccurate in the WMU game? Dileo had to fall down to catch his, and Koger had to leap and got clocked when he caught his. Meanwhile, Denard threw a pick on a short screen pass against Notre Dame.

    Maybe he's just not a good passer.

  22. I think that's fair. Denard probably isn't a very good passer. My issue with the new offense is that last year's system seemed to work around this limitation quite well. I don't know if it was the bubble screens, the easy reads, the shotgun formations, or the running plays, but it was working better.

    With 10 starters returning from a top 20 offense, this should be a truly explosive unit. It isn't. It seems clear that these are the "growing pains" Borges was discussing earlier. This doesn't mean he's a bad coach, but it does mean he bears some responsibility for the struggles.

    Thanks for debating me, by the way. You don't get this at a lot of other sites.